2005 Transcript

Transcript of Prince Saud interview with U.S. print journalists
Transcript of the interview given by Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to U.S. print journalists at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC, September 22, 2005

QUESTION:  Can I ask you about Syria.  Is the Saudi government doing anything to urge the Syrian government to cooperate on Lebanon, on the Hariri assassination, on the issue of Iraq? Is there any effort to get them to do more than they have in the past, anything new?

PRINCE SAUD:  We have very good relations with Syria.  Syria is an Arab country, and we continuously talk on issues of mutual interest and particularly those that affect the national interests of each country and the general interests of the Arab world.

For Iraq, as you know, we are also members of the contiguous states to Iraq, and that’s an initiative that we had started, that King Abdullah had started, and the main purpose and the main aim of this grouping is one, to keep the countries of the region out of interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq, and second, to help the government of Iraq to establish unity and to ensure the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq.  So we do talk about these issues collectively and bilaterally

QUESTION:  But you’re not doing anything new to try to pressure them, on Iraq or on the Syrians. 

PRINCE SAUD:  We talk of course continuously.  We cannot put more pressure than talk.

QUESTION:  Can we get your analysis of the situation in Iraq now, and how it’s affecting your country?

PRINCE SAUD:  Iraq, it’s a very dangerous situation and a very threatening situation because the impression is that it is gradually going towards disintegration.  There seems to be no dynamic now that is pulling the country together.  All the dynamics there are pushing the people away from each other. 

The special position of the Kurds in Iraq is nothing new.  This is not the threat to the unity of Iraq, so a special position for a Kurdish area in Iraq would not threaten the territorial integrity of Iraq.  But what is dangerous is this effort to separate the Arab population of Iraq into Shiite and Sunni groups that will be at loggerheads.  And if that happens, which is something that was never the case in Iraq, there was even at the time of Saddam Hussein no real problems between Shiites and Sunnis, they were living in the same places and the same areas peacefully, intermarrying, normal life between the Shiites and the Sunnis, because they are all Arabs. 

If you have a tribe like the Shammar tribe, which is half Shiite and half Sunni, they are still Shammar.  I remember a line from the book Shogun, where the priest was asking the Japanese lady, But you are a Christian.  But I’m also Japanese.  These people are Sunni but they are also Arab, and they live together, there are no differences between them.  But now they’ve been separated.

QUESTION:  Why do you think this happened?

PRINCE SAUD:  This happened because from the word go the Sunnis were put as the enemy.

QUESTION:  Is there anything the United States or other powers could have done to avert this?

PRINCE SAUD:  I think by not putting every Sunni as a Baathist criminal would have been the way of dividing the good people from the bad people.  But all the military forces were considered a threat, and all the Baathists were considered a threat, and therefore not dealt with and kept away.  With the breakdown of the government and people finding nothing to eat, no salaries being paid to the government or the military, they turned into a resistance group, gradually, and started to cooperate with the resistance factions.  And the resistance factions there, or the terrorists if you will, found the fish they could hide among. 

And that is what the situation is now.  The way to go about it is to pull the Sunnis who are only looking for a livelihood, who want only guarantees of their security and safety, away from the terrorists.  And the only way you can do that is by using the Arab Shiites to get in contact with them, to assure them of their safety and their well-being, to assure them of the territorial integrity of Iraq, to assure them of being equal citizens in the new Iraq.  That is the way to do it.  Guns don’t speak, they just kill.  What you need is somebody to speak and convince people and have the mind work, not just the nerves fear.

QUESTION:  What is the actual worry Saudi Arabia has as a result of this?

PRINCE SAUD:  Disintegration.  It would bring the countries of the region into conflict.  The immediate result is the threat that it would draw the countries of the region into conflict.  That is the main worry of all the neighbors of Iraq.

QUESTION:  Do you have a fear of a US-Iranian conflict?

PRINCE SAUD:  I don’t see one looming, but I’m not the best crystal ball gazer in the world.

QUESTION:  Your Highness, on the constitution, would it be better if the voters of Iraq rejected the constitution, start over? Or do you see the constitution as a way of ameliorating these trends?

PRINCE SAUD:  The constitution, I mean, if even the holy books are misinterpreted and misapplied and used in a dangerous way, a constitution can be used in a dangerous, it depends on how you apply it.  It is words on a paper, promises of things to come.  They can be honestly applied, achieve peace and stability, and if the intent is otherwise, it can be used otherwise.  The important thing is not the constitution per se.  The constitution, the elections, these are the methods of trying to keep the country together.  It is what the people do with the constitution and the election that is important. 

Now the constitution had a section in it at one time that considered that Iraq was, if I remember the words correctly, a country of different nationality, the Arab population of which is part of the Arab world.  What about the rest of Iraq? Is it part of the Arab world? It is now becoming not part of the Arab world.  And what would be the advantage to do that and create another divisive element through the constitution when you are looking for stability in Iraq.  That has been changed. 

QUESTION:  You said Iraq could bring the countries of the region into conflict.  Do you mean that suddenly going to be problems between Iraq and Syria, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, will the Shiites in eastern Saudi Arabia be affected by this?

PRINCE SAUD:  The country will be divided into at least, to my mind, three parts:  Kurdish part, a Sunni part and a Shiite part if things go the way they are.  And naturally there will be a struggle between the three for the natural resources of Iraq.  Each side will try to get these natural resources to pay for his country.  And in doing that, and turning into conflict, of course the Shiites will be helped by Iran; Turkey is not going to allow a Kurdish state on its border and therefore it will enter.  The military have already stated that if there were an independent Kurdish state, it is no secret, they made it very clear, and if I don’t see how the Arab countries are going to be left out of the conflict in one way or another. 

QUESTION:  You see this as the natural course of the way things are going now. 

PRINCE SAUD:  We don’t see any other course that would prevent this from happening.  I don’t see this as a purpose for policy, to divide Iraq, but I think this is what is going to happen if things continue as they are. 

But I was going to continue with the constitution.  The constitution also has another part which deals with Iraq, if the copies that we have are the right constitution.  They deal with the different governance of Iraq separately.  Each governor has the ability to have its own constitution, its own legislature, its own executive branch.  If that happens, this is a formula for disintegration for Iraq.  And in the United States, you’re still fighting the civil war for states’ rights, but now it is not on the battlefield but in other ways.  And it is the most modern country in the world.  Just think what that type of pressure would do to a country like Iraq.

QUESTION:  Do you blame the United States? Do you think the United States should not have gone into Iraq, and what are you urging the United States at this point to prevent the disintegration of Iraq?

PRINCE SAUD:  I think what I’m trying to do is to say that unless something is done to bring the people of Iraq together, a constitution alone or an election alone won’t do it.  And this is what we are suggesting, that the Arabs of Iraq should be urged to unite, that the Shiites of Iraq should open channels and bring their brethren the Sunnis away from the resistance groups and into the political process that is going on. 

QUESTION:  Have you carried this message to people within the American government?

PRINCE SAUD:  I wouldn’t talk to the newspapers in any way different than I would talk to anybody else.

QUESTION:  Whom else did you speak to?
PRINCE SAUD:  Everybody that would listen to us. 

QUESTION:  Of those people, whom can you mention?

PRINCE SAUD:  Anybody who would listen to us.

QUESTION:  Who are you seeing on this visit? You saw the Secretary of State in New York.

PRINCE SAUD:  We have one duty to perform here with the Secretary of State and that is to set up the strategic committee that was announced in the final communiqué during the meeting between King Abdullah and the President in Texas.

QUESTION:  Are you seeing anyone else to share these thoughts?

PRINCE SAUD:  I saw this morning the Majority Whip of the House.  I don’t know why they call it the whip, because they had a whip at one time to keep the rank and file of the party in line.

QUESTION:  Your comments to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York suggested great concern over Iran’s role in Iraq.  How profound and pervasive do you think that is, and how can it be reversed? I’d also be interested in your analysis of the president of Iran’s speech to the U.N.  Security Council.

PRINCE SAUD:  First of all, let me say that I wouldn’t say anything about Iran that we don’t say to Iran directly.  We have a very frank, open relationship with them in which we speak frankly.  Iran is an old nation, a great nation with a lot of history, and a great potential for the future and to be a stabilizing force in our region.  Our contacts with them are always aimed at talking about this role that Iran can play in the region as a stabilizing country in the region.  And they perceive of themselves as playing a large role that is comparative to their history and their size and their power.  We always try to convince them that a leading nation in a region has to take into consideration the interests of the smaller nations of the region, and not only its own.  That’s a sign of leadership.  You take the interests of the other countries in your strategy. 

Therefore decisions like going into weapons of mass destruction cannot be handled independently, but must take into consideration the interests of other countries.  And the policy that we had agreed with them upon was always to make the Gulf region, along with the Middle East in general, free of weapons of mass destruction.  So when we worry it is a worry that emanates from previous discussion that we have and in which there were assurances that we are pursuing the same policy for the region.  We will continue to have dialogue with them, we will mention these worries that we have to them, and we are sure that we can reach an accommodation in which all the interests of the countries of the region are taken in a collective manner so that we can make sure this region of ours, which is an important region in the world, is secure and is stable.

QUESTION:  Do you think Iran playing an increasingly negative role in Iraq? There are reports from the region of weapons shipments, etc.

PRINCE SAUD:  We are members of the contiguous group of Iraq, and Iran is one of the important members of that group, that group was established basically to keep people from not interfering in Iraq.  Now Iraq is a member of that group, and they complain of interference from Iran.  This is my comment:  If this is true and there is interference, especially in these separate governors that we are talking about, because they are contiguous to Iran and they are relatively calm so they can move easily in it.  If there is an effort to do some interference, that would be the place, and that would be very dangerous.

QUESTION:  What kind of interference are they complaining about?

PRINCE SAUD:  People coming in, money being brought in, interference in the political life, weapons too.

QUESTION:  The late Prime Minister Hariri had such a long and close history with your country, and we now have an investigation that has implicated a number of officials in Lebanon who have extremely close ties to the Syrian government and who have interviews going on in Damascus in which the investigator is speaking with senior people in the Syrian government.  What is your perspective on that process, and if it should emerge that even more evidence of Syrian relationship with that particular tragedy should emerge, what consequences would flow from that in your view?

PRINCE SAUD:  Prime Minister Hariri not only had relations with Saudi Arabia, but he had close relations with many Saudis, and I personally have lost a great and close friend in the death of Mr. Hariri.  So the personal loss is immeasurable.

On the other hand, to speculate on the result of what is being pursued, as to who the responsible official before it comes out, clearly who is to blame and who is not to blame, I think he would be the first to avoid speculating on the guilt or innocence of anybody unless proven by the courts.  One of the important decisions that the government of Lebanon has done is to leave the responsible people who are doing the investigation free from interference and to say that the courts also will be free from interference in looking at this issue.  This issue, if it is handled legally through the legal institutions and not interfere politically, let the cards fall where they may, and let the guilty come out whoever they are.  That can only be a healthy thing for the future of the region and for the future of Lebanon.

QUESTION:  Karen Hughes is leaving this weekend for her first trip to the region, including a stop in Saudi Arabia.  What kind of challenge does she face in convincing the Islamic world of good U.S. intent, and what is your message to her?

PRINCE SAUD:  America will deal with the region on its principles.  America is not unknown to the region.  It had no bad history with the region.  It wasn’t part of the Crusades, it wasn’t part of the imperial period, it is known as the country that helped the region achieve independence. 

So the knowledge of the people of the Middle East of the United States is a healthy one all in all.  It is only recently and mainly because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that perceptions changed, but I think they changed without losing the basic admiration of the people of the Arab world for America.  They still remember that America is the land of self-determination, the land that dealt with the world on principle rather than on the interests of its business community like the continental powers of Europe. 

This basic healthy background is just below the surface and can emerge if the Palestinian question is justly settled, and people would return to the perceptions that they had on America. 

We in Saudi Arabia are sure that the intentions of the United States are not imperialistic in the region, and we have direct proof of that.  We had 500,000 American troops on our territory during the war for the liberation of Kuwait.  When the war finished, these 500,000 troops left.  I wonder if the Parliament of England had 500,000 troops in Saudi Arabia they would have left.  What do you think, you were ambassador there?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL (Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.):  I think now they would leave. A hundred years ago, maybe not.

PRINCE SAUD: This is something.  It is indicative that America harbors no bad intentions about the region, and people know this instinctively.  They cannot understand, they cannot conceive why a country with so many principles has a double standard on the issue of Palestine.  This is the frustration of every Saudi.  And if you meet any Saudi, you will find this as the only frustration.  And they are mad.  They are mad because they know the good part of the United States, and they are mad because they see this as inconsistent with the other side. 

And one of the most interesting developments that I have heard, the American ambassador told me that after this Hurricane Katrina that the telephone lines of the embassy were flooded by calls from ordinary citizens asking what they can do to help.  Now that under any circumstances could not be considered an inimical feeling on the part of the Saudis for the American people.

QUESTION:  It seems the administration does not agree with your analysis of Iraq. 

PRINCE SAUD:  It is not the first time.

QUESTION:  One might even suggest that the disagreement between yourself, the Saudi leadership on one side and America on the other, seems deeper than it might even be on Israel-Palestinian issues.

PRINCE SAUD:  We agree on one thing.  We agree on the objective, and that is important.  We all want a free Iraq, we all want a prosperous Iraq and a united Iraq. 

QUESTION:  It is your neighborhood, you’re living next door.  I’m very curious to know, I’m sure this administration values your perspective and views.

PRINCE SAUD:  America’s neighborhood is much wider than ours.

QUESTION:  I wonder if you can candidly tell us a little more about your discussions with administration officials about something like this, and whether they are listening, do they tell you they disagree, or that you’re wrong?

PRINCE SAUD:  I promise not to tell the administration what I tell you and I am not going to tell you what I tell the administration.

QUESTION:  What’s your perception, some people say they’re living in a world of their own ideology or imagination, or good intentions, whatever it is.  What’s your analysis?

PRINCE SAUD:  No, they have a point to make.  They say people doubted there would be an election, and there was an election, and the majority of the Iraq people voted for it, and it is out.  They say the same thing about the constitution, you are worrying about the constitution, but once people work on the constitution, you will see that it will come out right and it will unite Iraq and they might prove to be right.  They are not going willy-nilly without a policy in this.  They have specific objectives, they have specific actions to be taken.  Their purpose is clear to them and they are pursuing it.

QUESTION:  Do you believe Iraq has crossed the threshold into a civil war?

PRINCE SAUD:  Not yet. 

QUESTION:  Is it close?

PRINCE SAUD:  I think it can be retrieved, I hope it can be retrieved. 

QUESTION:  Internal security of Saudi Arabia.

PRINCE SAUD:  Thank God it is good.

QUESTION:  Do you support sending Iran to the Security Council?

PRINCE SAUD:  It’s tough.  I think for my country, we prefer to talk to them.  Even when we have bilateral problems, we prefer to talk to them.  They are people who listen, they are people who will talk and give and take.  There is always a chance when you talk.  But when you confront each other, it is tough.

QUESTION:  Do you think Iran wants a nuclear weapon?

PRINCE SAUD:  I hope they don’t.

QUESTION:  Your government recently pardoned the Libyans who were accused of sponsoring the plot against the then-Crown Prince.  Does that indicate that your government no longer sees them as being guilty, as taking part in the plot? Secondly, are you disappointed in the response of the U.S. government in this regard, because this would appear to be an act of terrorism, and the government of the United States has not really addressed the issue very clearly in terms of condemning Libya.

PRINCE SAUD:  If we wanted to prove their guilt, we would have gone through the trial.  But we said we would stop the trial for the benefit of Arab solidarity.  In the meantime, we hope that they have learned also that this manner of dealing with issues is counterproductive, even to their own interests.  We hope they will desist from further actions of this kind.  Remember, there is always a trial in absentia.

PRINCE TURKI:  And also, the attorney general was willing to take the case, which means he had evidence.